Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 Stanley Cup, but much of the sports world isn’t paying attention. The ratings for the NHL playoffs are down from last year, and they might not get much better, considering who is still in contention.
When 1.1 million viewers watched the San Jose Sharks beat the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, it marked a 34 percent decrease from last year, as well as a 23 percent decrease in viewership from 2014. It was the least watched game of the conference finals since 2014.
Tuesday’s game wasn’t competitive, a 4-0 rout that was over with more than half of the third period still remaining. But the rating might not have been much higher had the game been close. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning was seen by 1.7 million viewers, down eight percent from the 1.9 million viewers that watched Game 2 between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay last year.
Ratings for the NBA playoffs have dwarfed that of the NHL postseason, and that’s to be expected. But the NHL is in a difficult position without any major market teams. The Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings were all eliminated in the first round, likely much to the chagrin of the NHL. The New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks don’t have as large of a following as the other teams in their cities, but they were knocked out in the first and second round, respectively.
It’s the first time in five years that not one of the three cities is represented this deep into the playoffs. With the Blackhawks winning a third championship since 2010 last year, they highlighted the second-most watched Stanley Cup Finals. The 2014 finals did monster ratings, as far as the NHL is concerned, when the Kings defeated the Rangers.
The best the NHL can hope for this year is a matchup between San Jose (the No.6 TV market) and Pittsburgh (No.23). The Sharks, though, might not bring the ratings that their market size would indicate, considering the NBA’s Golden State Warriors are getting the majority of the attention in the Bay Area.
Pittsburgh, though, might be the most passionate hockey town in all of the country. Even as viewership dropped in 2015, the Penguins still drew the highest ratings of any U.S. team. The Blues, who could still make the Stanley Cup finals, were second in local ratings, though they might not have much national appeal.
Canada has seen the biggest impact in terms of TV ratings. None of the country’s seven teams reached the playoffs, and much of the nation checked out of the postseason. Playoff viewership was reportedly down 60 percent after a week into the postseason.
This season marked the first time in 46 years in which a Canadian team wasn’t represented.